The scene: Three dozen people, gathered Tuesday evening in a first-floor hearing room at City Hall, full of questions about one of the most ambitious projects ever proposed for the city of Oakland.
The ambitious project generating the questions: The redevelopment of the 366-acre site of the old Oakland Army base—a $500 million proposal expected to provide an estimated 2,800 construction jobs.
The panel trying to answer and field the questions: Al Auletta, program manager for the city’s Office of Neighborhood Investment; Margaret Gordon, longtime West Oakland activist and first-ever local resident to serve on the Port of Oakland Board of Comissioners; Andreas Cluver, Secretary Treasurer of the Alameda Building Trades Council; Kate O’Hara, Campaign Director for the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy; and Elizama Ramirez, high school student and volunteer from the Urban Peace Movement. The Oakland League of Women Voters organized everything.
The brief back story: This summer, after 13 years of speculation about the fate of the old army base land, the city council approved agreements with developer California Capital and Investment Group to build a state-of-the-art shipping, packaging and distribution facility on the site. Vacated by the army in 1999, the site sits at the base of the Bay Bridge, next to the Port of Oakland. The land is currently has a number of business tenants in commercial space near the bridge, but most of it is covered in parking lots, unused barracks and warehouses. On October 30, the city council approved a project labor agreement (PLA), worked out with the Building Trades Council and local unions, that contains numerous staffing requirements intended to ensure that Oakland residents get jobs created by the project.
The PLA: The agreement mandates, among many other stipulations, that half the jobs created in the project go to Oakland residents; and that all new apprentices–that is, workers new to the construction industry, and learning trades through their work on the project–be Oakland residents.
Question from Sandra Threlfall, executive director of Waterfront Action, an organization dedicated to maintaining public access to the East Bay shoreline: “Who’s funding this massive development? I know Oakland doesn’t have the money.”
Auletta’s anser: All building construction will be privately funded, but tw0-thirds of the money needed for the redevelopment project is for site infrastructure. The land has been eroding since WWII, and utilities on the site haven’t been updated since then. “Before anything can be built on the land it has to be elevated, compacted, drained and stabilized,” Auletta said. The city and the Port of Oakland have a cost-sharing agreement for this work, he said, and the city has accumulated savings from lease payments the city has not had to pay while the site is open for development proposals.
But between $100-$200 million was expected to be brought into the project from Measure B, which proposed to raise nearly $8 billion for Alameda County transportation over the next three decades by doubling the existing half-cent sales tax for transportation. While the numbers have not been called final, the measure looks to have been rejected by voters on election day. That money will have to come from somewhere else now, Auletta said, and a source has yet to be found.
Question from Oakland resident Allene Warren: “How do you guarantee the fifty percent Oakland residents are in fact Oakland residents?”
Auletta’s anser: Workers must have lived in Oakland for the last six months to qualify as residents for this project. The site developer will have to submit its payroll records to a community oversight committee that will make sure the policy is being followed.
Gordon’s answer: Payroll info from the developer will be posted on a publically available website, so it will be easy to check employee residency.
Question from Karen Hester, founder of Make Oakland Beautiful, an organization formed to protest the five billboards that are part of the planned army base development: “Are you excited that five billboards are part of this deal?”
Auletta’s anser: “I’m torn.” New billboards are included in the project to help fund a West Oakland job center that will be created to help train and hire local workers for the redevelopment, Auletta said. “As far as ongoing sources of revenue, there aren’t many that can fund this job center,” he said.
Question from Oakland resident Judith A. Mann about the job center to be created in West Oakland: “Is the PIC involved in this? Most of us don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel.” (The Oakland Private Industry Council or PIC, is a nonprofit headquartered in downtown Oakland that oversees the operation of seven career centers in the area, providing programs for job seekers to find training and employment.)
Gordon’s answer: “The new job center is concerned only with construction jobs.” The West Oakland job center should not conflict with the current PIC, she said.
Cluver’s answer: Cooperation is expected between the two job centers. The West Oakland job center will refer applicants to other resources, including the PIC, if they are not suited for construction work.
Question from union worker Christine Garrett about workers new to the construction industry: “Will there be systems in place to help get those kids into the unions?”
Cluver’s answer: It is important that the unions make sure new apprentices be properly trained and mentored for work in the industry. “Their first job may be at the army base for three weeks,” he said. “Their next may be in San Jose. We cannot set them up for failure.”
Gordon’s answer: “I’m hoping the building trade unions will step up and provide those services.” Unions need to understand the opportunity afforded by this development, she said, and help newcomers into long-term construction careers.
Question from Oakland resident Leslie Smith: “What is the plan to allow the people of Oakland access to their shoreline?”
Gordon’s answer: A new park, Gateway Park, is planned for part of the land in question, which will allow public access to the coast.
Question (objection, actually) from Oakland resident Joyce Ray about the eviction notices served to those currently doing business on the old army base site: “The City is tossing out 29 small businesses who are job generators, including the Oakland Film Center. If I were them, I’d give up on Oakland and find another place.”
When someone on the panel asked Ray exactly her question was, a voice from the audience called out to the panel: “Well, what do you have to say about it?”
Auletta’s answer: “What’s there can’t stay there. Every building on that site is coming down.” Due to erosion and sea level rising, he said, the whole site has to be raised two to three feet above its current level. He added that he was very disappointed that tenants were served with eviction notices without first being approach with assistance in relocation.
What happens next: While the question and answer session was taking place, the city council was in session upstairs and gave final approval to the community oversight committee that will monitor full compliance with the job policies in the development project. The panelists said they were very glad to hear this, and that it indicated to them that the project is moving quickly towards the construction phase. At the latest, construction must begin by June 2013, according to a stipulation in a grant used by California Capital to fund its construction.
“It’s exciting,” said Cluver, meaning the creation of new jobs. But he told the crowd that no one involved with the project plans to to regard their work as done and assume the PLA by itself will ensure an economic boon for Oakland. “It’s not the paper that’s going to do it,” he said. “It’s the day-in, day-out work we’re going to do to make it happen.”